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US military cuts back on Afghan war data


In this photo taken on April 20, 219, an Afghan farmer uses a shovel to plough a field in the province of Badakhshan


Washington: Amid a battlefield stalemate in Afghanistan, the U.S. military has stopped releasing information often cited to measure progress in America's longest war, calling it of little value in fighting the Taliban insurgency.

The move fits a trend of less information being released about the war in recent years, often at the insistence of the Afghan government, which had previously stopped the US military from disclosing the number of Afghans killed in battle as well as overall attrition within the Afghan army.

The latest clampdown also aligns with President Donald Trump's complaint that the US gives away too much war information, although there is no evidence that this had any influence on the latest decision.

A government watchdog agency that monitors the US war effort, now in its 18th year, said in a report to Congress on Wednesday that the US military command in Kabul is no longer producing "district control data," which shows the number of Afghan districts -- and the percentage of their population controlled by the government compared to the Taliban.

The last time the command released this information, in January, it showed that Afghan government control was stagnant or slipping.

It said the share of the population under Afghan government control or influence a figure that was largely unchanged from May 2017 to July 2018 at about 65 per cent had dropped in October 2018 to 63.5 per cent. The government's control or influence of districts fell nearly 2 percentage points, to 53.8 per cent.

Less than two years ago, a top American commander in Afghanistan called population control "most telling." Gen. John Nicholson told reporters in November 2017 that he wanted to see the figure, then about two-thirds, increase to at least 80 percent, with the Taliban holding only about 10 per cent and the rest contested.

"And this, we believe, is the critical mass necessary to drive the enemy to irrelevance," Nicholson said then.

Nicholson's successor, Gen. Scott Miller, believes there already are enough such assessments available to the public, including one produced by intelligence agencies.

"We are focused on setting the conditions for a political settlement to safeguard our national interests," Col. David M. Butler, a spokesman for Miller, said in an email exchange Tuesday.

 "The district stability assessment that was previously provided by DOD was redundant and did little to serve our mission of protecting our citizens and allies."       The war is at a sensitive juncture, with the Trump administration making a hard push to get peace talks started between the Taliban and the Afghan government. The Taliban recently launched a spring military offensive and have refused to directly talk to Kabul representatives, viewing the government as a US puppet.

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